President Biden believes in the right to repair. He told the White House Competition Council last night that customers should have more choice in where their things are fixed, with fewer penalties, at lower cost.
“From a smartphone to a tractor, you don’t have the freedom to chose how or where to repair that item you purchased,” he told his cabinet. “Denying the right to repair raises prices for consumers, means independent repair shops can’t compete for your business.”
Biden’s remarks come just over six months after his executive order urged the FTC and other agencies to work against repair restrictions. The FTC made repair rights a formal policy soon after. Biden notes that some manufacturers lock out independent repair by voiding warranties, disabling features, or simply controlling the price of parts. This raises prices for consumers. In explaining the need for his competition council, Biden cites economist Thomas Philippon’s studies demonstrating that consolidation costs the median American family $5,000 per year.
Biden said that, following his and the FTC’s actions in July, major companies began “voluntarily agreeing to change their restrictions on repairs.” “What’s happened was a lot of these companies said, ‘You’re right. We’re going to voluntarily do it. You don’t have to order us to do it.’”
This feels great, but it’s not greatly accurate. Apple and Microsoft are large companies, to be sure, but there are many other manufacturers who will do nothing to make their devices more repairable without intervention. And those two corporate giants are not putting independent repair on the same footing as their in-house services—they’re taking small, if still historic, steps.
Tying these companies’ actions to federal action leaves out shareholder activism, bad press and social pressure, and, most importantly, the efforts of U.S. PIRG and the broader independent repair coalition. It also fails to note the repair movements growing in France, the EU, and other markets important to these companies. But, then, these are public remarks to the press before a broader cabinet meeting.
It’s worth marking the point in time in which the U.S. president announced his support for the right to repair—even if he has some issues with the feel of it.
“‘The right to repair’ — sounds kind of silly saying it that way, but it’s — but we call it ‘the right to repair’ — is literal.” Biden said.